A shillin’ to feed the meter?

Memories come in many different forms. Yes, classic events stick in your mind. I’ve got a clear picture of the 1953 Coronation Street parties that unfolded across Merseyside. For me though, memories are much more basic and simple. For instance, I can immediately picture my mother and father in their twenties and thirties by visualising the under stairs cupboard in the house we lived in at that time. These were those 1950s days when pretty much everyone had pre-pay gas and electric meters.

In that era before TV they would be listening to the radio on dark evenings when the lights would suddenly go out. My mother would be scrambling around looking for a shilling piece to feed the meter. This always seemed to happen at the most untimely moment.  MANWEB, as it was at in those days, had no sense of timing. The cupboard I allude to contained both meters and always gave off a gassy smell that intermingled with shoe polish because this was the where mum also kept her Cherry Blossom products! She always believed it was uncivilised not to have shiny shoes!

Fittingly, there was also a cobbler’s last in this cupboard. Mum would proudly tell me how her father, Adam Wareing, would mend their shoes – and pass on these skills to her. Now we just throw away anything that is even mildly shabby, sacrilege in those days of ‘make do and mend’.  What a day it was whenever the gas or electric man came to empty one of the meters. There was always the potential for a refund. Alternatively, you had the option of the having the meter adjusted and inputting less during the following quarter.

Of course, Mum always took the money, the pocket in her ‘pinny’ jangling to the sound of shilling pieces over the next few days. I would no longer have to go across to our friendly corner shop with the well rehearsed request: “Half a dozen eggs and a loaf please – and put it in on the bill!” The bill, of course, was always settled promptly on the Friday when my dad got paid. In those days everyone was caught up in the ‘buy now, pay later’ economy.

Sadly, pre-pay meters are still par for the course in some areas. It’s not their ongoing use that annoys me, but the instinctive thought that this pay-as-you-go method inevitably comes with a higher tariff, hitting the very people who can’t afford it. Life can be so unfair at times